Video games in Germany have long faced a blanket ban on the usage of Nazi imagery. However, a recent press release means that games will now be able to use such imagery on a case-by-case basis.
How Hitler got his stache back.
Unsurprisingly, Germany has a bit of a problem with Nazi imagery. As part of one of their constitution’s laws (Section 86a of the German Criminal Code,) certain symbols face strict limitations in their use. These symbols include white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, the Islamic State, and most notably, Nazis/Neo-Nazis. These symbols are only allowed when used in the context of art, science, research, or teaching. The artistic context is the important focus here. While movies and TV could use that as context, video games did not have the same ability. According to Kotaku via GameStar’s Sandro Odak, this traces to a 1998 court ruling:
The verdict said in 1998 that Wolfenstein 3D is banned nazi propaganda (in a case against a real nazi) and they never considered it being a piece of art or culture (which for example has applied to movies). In the following years this interpretation has stayed intact – until now.
— Sandro Odak (@riperl) August 9, 2018
A good example of this law’s effect can be see in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. This primarily involved changing the swastikas and other Nazi imagery. In addition, Adolf Hitler, who appeared in the game, did not sport his iconic toothbrush mustache. This decision was mocked in a parody game called Wolfenstache, in which you battle Hitler’s mustache.
A recent press release has overturned this ruling. Video games are now able to use the ‘social adequacy’ clause when inserting normally banned imagery. The release gives some specifics:
When games that depict symbols of unconstitutional organisations are submitted to the USK for an age rating, the USK committees can now assess them on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the ‘social adequacy clause’ (Sozialadäquanzklausel, as laid out in section 86, subsection (3) of the German Criminal Code) applies. In this context, ‘social adequacy’ means that symbols of unconstitutional organisations can be used in games in individual cases, as long as those symbols serve an artistic or scientific purpose, or depict current or historical events.
Felix Falk, the Managing Director of the German Games Industry Association, celebrated this decision:
This new decision is an important step for games in Germany. We have long campaigned for games to finally be permitted to play an equal role in social discourse, without exception. Computer and video games have been recognised as a cultural medium for many years now, and this latest decision consistently cements that recognition in terms of the use of unconstitutional symbols as well.
We in the games industry are concerned about the tendencies we see towards racism, anti-semitism and discrimination. We are strongly committed to an open, inclusive society, to the values laid out in the German constitution, and to Germany’s historical responsibility. Many games produced by creative, dedicated developers address sensitive topics such as the Nazi era in Germany, and they do so in a responsible way that encourages reflection and critical thinking. The interactive nature of games makes them uniquely qualified to spark contemplation and debate, and they reach younger generations like no other medium can.
It will be interesting to see if this means released games, like Wolfenstein II, will have re-releases which add the censored imagery back in.